The Difference Between Interning at a Small Company vs. Large Company

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When summer internship season hits, many young candidates have to decide what size company they want to work for–a start-up, a mid-sized company, or a large firm. Although internships tend to have certain similarities regardless of company size, your role, experiences, and opportunities may vary as you move from a larger company to a smaller one. Not knowing the difference can be stressful when you're trying to decide which internship is right for you.

When you land an internship, regardless of whether the company is big or small, you’ll get great hands-on experience, a resume builder, networking opportunities, and an opportunity to really decide if you want to pursue that field after graduation.

Brand Name Recognition

Some people gain internship experience at large companies such as Fox or NBC, for example. A large, brand-name company internship on your resume can help you land a job at a peer company after graduation.

Big names matter even more in fields such as law, and when human resources personnel scan resumes, prominent company names stand out. If you're studying marketing, you'll add a lot more clout to your resume if you intern for Disney, rather than a boutique firm.

A mid-sized Public Relations firm can offer a great experience in different ways and may have name recognition locally, which can help your post-college prospects. Small companies have their own benefits, but you won't get the name-recognition benefits. You might also have a harder time finding big-name mentors within smaller companies and have less access to industry veterans who've been through the grind and lived to tell about it.

In a perfect world, you would have the benefit of experiencing several different-sized businesses and the perks that go along with each specific type of internship.

At the larger companies, actually securing the internship can be a much more in-depth process. You would likely meet with the Human Resources department first to find out about specific application deadlines, start dates, and end dates. You might also be given corporate promotional merchandise, such as portfolios, pens, and other goodies that carry the company's logo.

Depending on the size of the company and how established their internship program is, the firm might treat interns to free lunches, executive lunch series speakers, intern mingling events, and more. At the larger companies, there were more people around but you may not necessarily have the opportunity to meet with them.

Gaining Work Experience

When you intern with smaller- and mid-sized companies, you will probably be able to forge stronger relationships with the people you work under, because there are fewer of them and fewer interns.

You may also have more real opportunities to help others on various projects. The typical tasks you'll perform as an intern–administrative work, research, taking notes, and observing meetings, aren’t necessarily different from the work you would do at large companies. The only difference is that you'll have more opportunities to take on more responsibility and a wider variety of tasks.

If you are considering an internship with a company that does interesting things but no one has heard of them, that’s okay. Do the internship, make a lasting impression, do your best to get involved in meaningful work, network, and help with as many different tasks as possible. At a larger company, you may still get great experience, but you could also end up playing computer games at an empty desk all day.

The Environment

You might find that interning for a larger company feels like a generic, impersonal experience in some ways. Smaller companies have a much easier time creating a personal feel, and because the staff won't be as large, you can truly bond and get to know your work colleagues.

In smaller companies, you'll likely have access to employees who are fairly high up in the company, which can expose you to more interesting work and more influential contacts. Conversely, interns at larger companies may find themselves making copies and grabbing coffee for lower level employees.

These days, most students will intern with multiple companies over the course of their college career. Once you’ve completed your internship with a smaller company, pursue an internship with a recognizable brand-name firm.

Your earlier intern experience should help you land a pretty big name. Having both of these opportunities will balance out your resume and give you useful experience at two different-sized companies. Hopefully, by the end of your internships, you’ll have a better feel for the size and type of company you’d like to work in after college.